There’s been a steady drumbeat recently from those seeking an extension of the wind production tax credit. For many reasons, including some that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has carefully highlighted in his opposition, this is a bad idea.
First, an extension continues this unsettling policy trend in which citizens are asked to bear all the risks and gain none of the rewards. This socialization of risks and privatization of profits guarantees disasters, for corporate boards and even their federal overseers can become careless and, in some instances, reckless. This fact was clearly demonstrated by the Solyndra debacle – when a company with close ties to the Obama administration lost more than a half billion dollars of taxpayers’ money. At the heart of that fiasco was both the company and the administration’s indifference to the taxpayers.
Solyndra also revealed something else damaging about federal involvement in markets: the potential for political corruption. It’s clear that the Obama administration became emotionally, and inappropriately, invested in the fortunes of one company and one sector. When that happens, the system is compromised, cronyism flourishes and corruption is inevitable.
President Barack Obama talks about the need to “invest” in alternative energy sources. But the reality is that he is not investing his money – he’s spending yours. I’m not sure that too many Americans would choose the president to manage their retirement accounts. His record – a jobless and exceedingly shallow recovery – is not good.
With this production tax credit extension, the wisdom of the investment is especially dubious. Wind companies and their lobbyists have, for the last year, been telling all who would listen that the expiration of the tax credit could spell doom for their industry. Obama repeats this claim regularly on the campaign trail.
But what does that say about the industry? If you need a tax credit to compete, you are probably not that competitive.
In addition, the tax credit is not de minimis for either taxpayers or companies lobbying for it. It will likely cost the taxpayers more than $12 billion inside the budget window. Worse, the credit is set at 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour.
Just to compare,, the national average for produced power is around 6 cents per kilowatt hour. This means the wind industry gets an almost 40 percent subsidy for each unit it produces. How many companies would like that?
You also have to remember that wind power enjoys a mandate in more than 30 states. That is, regardless of cost – or price to ratepayers – utilities must use wind or other renewables for specific amounts of power generation. So, the wind companies enjoy not only a tax credit, but a must-use mandate as well – regardless of cost.
It would be one thing if we were running out of natural gas and confronted a real national requirement to use alternative energy. But it’s the reverse. The United States has more traditional energy resources than anywhere else on Earth, according to the Congressional Research Service. With the surge in production from the shale formations, a new Barclays report just concluded, , natural gas will likely dominate wind in the marketplace for the foreseeable future.
Even now, in places like Williston, N.D., companies are hiring everyone who can get there to work on rigs or in ancillary jobs. If the president is genuinely worried about jobs, maybe he should visit the Bakken in North Dakota, or the Marcellus in Pennsylvania or the Eagle Ford in Texas.
Using wind power to generate electricity is not a new idea. The first windmills used to generate electricity went up in the 19th Century. The production tax credit is also not a new idea. It is now about 20 years old.
Romney’s opposition to continuing the wind subsidy is absolutely correct. At some point, an industry has to either succeed or fail on its own merits.
For wind companies, we are at that point now.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is on an AEA energy panel Wednesday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
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